Beck asked an audience member to lead a prayer, then filming started. Someone asked, “How do we get people to come together?” Beck responded by citing a book called Pendulum, which argues that as the result of generational change, history shifts in 40-year cycles between “me” eras and “we” eras. In 2003, he explained, America entered a “we” era, a time when individual identity weakens and group identity strengthens. “ ‘We’ generations,” Beck declared, produce “genocidal monsters”: The past three “we” generations coincided with the French and American revolutions, Karl Marx and the Civil War, and the Holocaust. Americans can survive the coming “onslaught,” he reassured his viewers, but to do so will require great character. He mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for resisting the Nazis. He invoked Gandhi, who fasted in an effort to prevent India’s Hindus and Muslims from murdering each other. Then Beck stopped for a commercial break, during which he chatted amiably with his audience about the impending collapse of America’s banks.
Later in the show, a questioner suggested that Americans were turning away from God. Beck said he’d been thinking a lot about the prophet Jeremiah, who vainly warned the Israelite kings that catastrophe was near. Finally, when the Babylonians were about to sack Jerusalem, Jeremiah urged the Israelites to accept national enslavement, because it was God’s will. Beck saw a contemporary lesson: “Sometimes you have to pay the price for what you’ve done.” Then he started talking about Donald Trump’s assault on the Bill of Rights.
Amidst the misery of the 2016 presidential campaign, Beck showed unusual courage. Many conservative pundits opposed Trump. But they mostly worked for mainstream media institutions like The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN. They didn’t rely on Trump supporters to pay their salary.
Conservative talk-show hosts, who stoke right-wing populism for a living, reacted very differently. Sean Hannity appeared in one of Trump’s campaign videos. Laura Ingraham spoke at the Republican National Convention. Rush Limbaugh declared in March that, “with the case of Trump, there’s a much bigger upside than downside.” In July, Hugh Hewitt wrote, “Of course I am voting for Donald Trump.”
Even the most moralistic conservative talkers—including William Bennett and Dennis Prager, who have made careers of arguing that private character is key to political leadership—endorsed Trump. Mark Levin, who hosts a popular show on the Westwood One radio network, vowed not to. “Count me as Never Trump,” he declared in April. But in September he announced, “I’m voting for Trump.”
Among big-time national conservative talk-show hosts, Beck—who is tied with Levin for the third-largest listenership after Limbaugh and Hannity—was a rare exception. He didn’t just oppose Trump. He compared him to Hitler. He warned that Trump was a possible “extinction-level event” for American democracy and capitalism. In an attempt to defeat Trump, Beck campaigned during the primaries for Ted Cruz. Then, when Cruz endorsed Trump, Beck apologized for having supported him.